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I've been keeping this blog for all of my beekeeping years and I am beginning my 19th year of beekeeping in April 2024. Now there are more than 1300 posts on this blog. Please use the search bar below to search the blog for other posts on a subject in which you are interested. You can also click on the "label" at the end of a post and all posts with that label will show up. At the very bottom of this page is a list of all the labels I've used.

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I began this blog to chronicle my beekeeping experiences. I have read lots of beekeeping books, but nothing takes the place of either hands-on experience with an experienced beekeeper or good pictures of the process. I want people to have a clearer picture of what to expect in their beekeeping so I post pictures and write about my beekeeping saga here.Master Beekeeper Enjoy with me as I learn and grow as a beekeeper.

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Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Every Bee Hive Tells a Story

Every bee hive tells a story. From the minute you approach the hive for an inspection, the story begins. Watching the bees fly in and out of the hive is the first part of the story. You can read the story of the hive in many ways before you even open the top.

What do you see? 

  • Are the bees regularly and rapidly flying in and out in large numbers? 
  • Does a bee leave almost at the same time as another enters the hive? 
  • Are they bearing pollen? 
  • Do you see any drones? 
  • Is the energy busy and peaceful or is there fighting at the front door? 

While this isn't a choose-your-own-adventure story, each observation leads us down a path to the next part of the story. 

If the bees are flying in and out in large numbers, you know that your hive is busy and the bees are doing their jobs, whether they are collecting water, pollen, nectar or resin for propolis, they are hard at work. You also know that you have a good number of bees in the hive.

If the bees are leaving and flying in at about the same rate, you still know that the bees are working, but the lack of high level of activity may make me worry about the numbers of bees in the hive and wonder ahead of opening the hive if this means there's a queen problem or that there is another reason the bees haven't built up as fast as the hive with large numbers. (This, BTW, is a reason to have two hives at least so you have grounds for comparison.)

If the bees flying into the hive have pollen on their legs and there are lots of them (a bee with pollen every five bees or so) then you are likely to have a laying queen. It also has to do with the time of day. You'll notice with your own hives when the pollen comes in. My hives are more likely to be bearing a lot of pollen in the morning. However, I have had a queenless hive where bees still bring in pollen to feed the brood still developing after the queen has died.

If you see drones, that tells you two things. If it is early spring, drones flying in and out of the hive means it is time to make splits successfully. Why? Because in order to succeed with a split, the new queen has to get mated. She can only do that if there are drones flying. Later in the year, drones flying is a sign of an ongoing healthy hive which produces workers and drones and all are doing their jobs.

If there is fighting at the front door, it's probably late summer and a robbery may be starting. Bees don't fight with their own sisters, but invaders are a different story. Without even opening the hive, you know you need to take preventive measures - start a sprinkler, put on a robber screen. But many new beekeepers confuse the activity of orientation with robbing and these are two very different events. In orientation, the bees fly out of the hive and turn around to look at it. Then they fly back in and do it again. They are learning how to recognize the hive so that when they are foraging, they can find their way back. The hive looks really busy, but not angry. 

Here's a video of orientation flying: 

This is an old recording before I had a good camera, but here's what robbing looks like - you'll see it's much more violent than orientation:

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